New York opens probe into city college system for alleged anti-Jewish discrimination

CUNY Law School to be investigated for faculty’s BDS support, amid ongoing fight over antisemitism allegations at massive public university network

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

A BDS supporter at an anti-Israel protest in New York City, October 14, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
A BDS supporter at an anti-Israel protest in New York City, October 14, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — State authorities have opened an investigation into New York City’s public college system for alleged discrimination against Jews, part of a running battle over antisemitism at the City University of New York (CUNY).

The New York State Division of Human Rights informed a complainant of the investigation in a letter last week.

The complaint alleges discrimination against Zionist Jewish and Israeli students at the CUNY Law School, due to its faculty’s formal support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“The boycott adopted by CUNY Law blatantly discriminates against students, prospective students, faculty and employees, and prospective faculty and employees on the basis of creed and national origin,” the complaint said.

New York State law prohibits boycotts, blacklisting, and other forms of discrimination due to an individual’s creed or national origin. The complaint argues that Zionism is a core belief for many Jews, falling into the state’s definition of “creed.”

The resolution’s blanket condemnation of Israeli entities also discriminates on the basis of nationality, the complaint said, adding that the faculty sets the policy for the law school, including in its grading, admissions, and hiring.

Jeffrey Lax, a Jewish faculty member at a CUNY college and leading figure in the opposition to alleged antisemitism at the school system, filed the formal complaint in July. Lax is the co-founder of Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY (SAFE CUNY), representing Zionists and Israelis in the school system. The group has also called for a city investigation into the BDS endorsement.

The New York State Division of Human Rights told Lax in a letter last week that it had received his complaint and will open a probe. The department did not respond to a request for further information.

“We feel that having BDS policy adopted by a law school discriminates against the Jewish students, faculty and staff of that law school,” Lax told The Times of Israel. “We have demanded that the chancellor put a stop to CUNY Law School implementing discriminatory, bigoted BDS policy and he’s done nothing about it, he’s only defended it.”

“I think the message is, ‘We don’t want Jews at CUNY,'” Lax said.

Illustrative: Anti-Israel BDS activists in New York City, May 15, 2021. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

A spokesperson for the college system said “CUNY does not comment on confidential personnel matters.”

CUNY Law’s faculty approved a BDS resolution in May 2022, after the Student Government Association passed a similar resolution.

The BDS resolution called for eliminating the mainstream Jewish campus group Hillel, and other groups, saying they carry out “intimidation” and “harassment” of Palestinian activists, the complaint noted.

The BDS resolution demanded CUNY cut ties with Israel and divest from the Jewish state. It also accused the school of being “directly complicit in ongoing apartheid, genocide, and war crimes perpetrated by the Jewish state.”

It also demanded an end to educational exchange programs with Israel and severing all connections with Israelis and Israel-linked companies.

CUNY officials have defended the anti-Israel activism as free speech.

Antisemitism has been a growing concern on CUNY campuses in recent years, as anti-Israel activities became more prominent and anti-Jewish crime surged in New York City. Jewish groups and city officials have accused the administration of turning a blind eye to anti-Jewish activity on campuses, and students have reported intense harassment.

The CUNY system has 26 colleges with around 260,000 students and 40,000 faculty. It has long been part of the city’s social fabric.

The US Department of Education opened an investigation into allegations of widespread harassment of Jewish students at CUNY’s Brooklyn College. The federal agency launched a number of other similar investigations on US campuses, with many focusing on whether anti-Zionism amounts to antisemitism.

The CUNY faculty union also passed anti-Israel resolutions.

Late last year, CUNY committed to a series of measures to combat antisemitism on its campuses, including a partnership with Hillel, an online portal to report discrimination, and $750,000 for programming to combat hate.

“Making sure everyone feels safe and protected on our campuses and in our offices is a top priority at CUNY, which is arguably the nation’s most diverse university system and attracts people of all backgrounds and nationalities,” a CUNY spokesperson said. “The university is engaged every day in efforts to combat antisemitism, violence, hate, racism and intolerance of any kind within our campus communities. This is important but hard, never-ending work.”

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